Sunday, August 11, 2013

Soccer in the States -- With a European Flavor


  Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to get an invite to the always-sold-out Timbers game.

  The Portland Timbers are all the rage in the Rose City this summer, just as they've been since their re-franchising in 2011.

  The franchise originated in 1975 in the old North American Soccer League. This is the fourth Portland team to share the Timbers' legacy and don a Timbers' kit.

  Portlanders have a rich history with soccer, and traditionally do a tremendous job supporting their teams. And since the MLS brought professional soccer back to Portland just a few seasons ago, the Timbers Army and the rest of the city, have done just that.

 I put together a short video from the Timbers vs. Whitecaps.

  While most think of soccer in the US as an afterthought, the Timbers sell out Jeld-Wen Field each and every match. 20,000+ screaming, singing, scarf donning, flag waving fans, elicit thoughts of passionate European crowds (sadly, something I never got to see while in Europe), not a small-market city in the States.

Some action on the field.
  It seems to me that the Timbers Army is the heart and soul of the franchise. While the players make the machine go, the passionate supporters are what make the soccer experience in Portland memorable. Officially, the Timbers Army is made up of the 4,000+ fans at the north-end of the stadium.

  I wouldn't call myself a soccer fanatic, but without a doubt, I'm a sports fan. And am always loyal to my hometown teams. So when I got the invite, I jumped at the chance to see the Timbers, and the Timbers Army, in person.

Timbers Army.
  I had seen several games on TV, and the constant singing and chanting from the crowd alone made it fun and exciting. Since this would be my first game in person, I was thrilled to see and feel the energy of the crowd. The Timbers Army lived up to the hype, and then some. Our seats (or stands, since we never sat down) were just next to the Timbers Army in the north-end of Jeld-Wen field.

  After two seasons of less-than-stellar play, this year's Timbers squad is an improved team, and is battling to stay near the top of the Western Conference standings. And the game versus Vancouver just happened to be one of their rivalry games -- the Cascadia Cup.

Yell sheets.
  My first professional soccer match was sure to be a doozy. 

  Walking into the stadium, yell sheets with lyrics were being handed out. And as we found our seats, roughly 20 minutes before kickoff, the chants were already echoing throughout the stadium.

  While I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I felt myself, at times, paying more attention to the crowd and the yell leaders -- trying to decipher which song they were chanting. The were entertaining in
Pre-game activities.

  Now to the game.

  It was my first professional soccer match. And it was fast, physical, and intense. The athletes were impressive; quick, strong, and skilled.

The final minutes tick off the clock.
  Seeing a game in person is always a sure fire way to becoming a fan, as the speed of any game never translates through television. So being able to watch live and in person, was a real treat.

  One thing I was disappointed with: the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

  The last five minutes were played in a fury -- get that game-winning goal! But then the final whistle blew, and the match was over. You could feel the disappointment in the crowd too, as if everyone was saying, 'now what?'

On the MAX. Headed home with a tie?
  No win, no loss. And yet, it was time to head home. Weird. I don't know, as an athlete, if I could ever get used to ending a game in a tie.

  Nonetheless, we hopped back on the MAX, jam-packed with all the rest of the crowd, and eventually made our way home.

  Though I was disappointed with the tie result, my first professional soccer match was a blast -- thanks to the exceptional athletes on the pitch, and the tremendous fans in the stands.

  Next time, I'll have yells down pat. And maybe we'll get a win out of the deal too.


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